Having a really big, strong back does not guarantee that you will not have back pain or suffer from other nagging issues. In some cases, a super strong back can actually exasperate the problem. If certain parts of your body are much stronger in relation to other parts, you will be imbalanced and your system will be in a constant struggle for dominance. The stronger muscles win and pull the antagonist weaker muscles all out of whack and usually create some sort of poor posture and nasty alignment issue.
Never underestimate the power of a few minutes of basic stretching. If you're too busy to get down and stretch yourself out for a few minutes a day, then you're most likely just going to have pain forever because you refuse to take action and be accountable for your own destruction. Below is a video of some basic stretches to get your back and all of your surrounding muscles mobile and moving well. Remember, your entire body is interconnected and the source of the pain is rarely where you feel the pain. It is usually the manifestation of some other deep rooted problem, as simple as sitting on a wallet under one cheek all day, wearing certain kinds of footwear, or even having one leg a half inch shorter than the other, causing bad alignment. Both of which we don't really see or think about. Also, tightness of one muscle group can cause pain above or below the restricted area from overcompensation. If everything is stretched out effectively mobilized, there will be less of a battle for muscular dominance, and thus, less pain and more pleasure.
Some basic static stretches include, but are not limited to:
-lying hamstrings stretch
-prone press up/ hang
-iliotibial band stretch
-it should be noted that foam rolling and various other forms of self myofascial release and massage therapy can have huge benefits with muscle relaxation and pliability
Try to keep your head in a neutral position as often as possible. I have a friend who developed serious pain and requires regular treatment due to holding a phone to her ear with her shoulder for hours a day at work. Your ear, shoulder and hip bone should be stacked over one another in the frontal plane. Your head should not tilt forward and your shoulders should not round forward and sag. This should be obvious, but its amazing how many people you see walking around looking at the ground with their shoulders collapsing forward. The more time you spend staring at your computers and smart phones, the more likely you are to develop back pain due to poor alignment. Also, when performing heavy exercise in an unsupported position, such as a deadlift or clean, activate the deep muscles of the trunk by drawing the belly button towards the spine.
Now we need to learn how to properly train for a strong back. This is best done by performing compound joint movements that integrate the whole body, keeping the musculature in balance. Basic bodyweight exercises are something almost anybody can do virtually anywhere, so there are few excuses to not perform them. Kettlebell and sandbag exercises require minimal space and a little investment, but are invaluable and arguably superior exercise tools, depending on which coach you listen to. Barbell training has been my favorite method for quite some time, but I do not entertain the thought of training with only one tool vs another. I have the choice to train with multiple tools, therefore I will continue to do so on a regular basis. Lots of people ask the question, "If you could only do this, or only use that, what would it be?" I say screw that noise. Maybe for a brief period of time I will choose one tool over another, but as a guy who is interested in strength and quality of life, I will use the right tool for the job, or make adjustments and adapt as necessary. And if things aren't perfect, I'll keep my mouth shut and make the best out of the current situation, and continue getting stronger with a minimalist approach. No matter what happens, I'll always have my body and my mind. You can take my barbell, but you can't take my creativity.
Specific exercises that should be used to strengthen the back, the trunk, and surrounding musculature are deadlift variations, squat variations, swings, cleans, snatches, row variations like one and two arm bent over row, renegade rows and seated rows, supine bodyweight rows, pull ups, extensions, bodyweight levers and plank holds, and sprints. Carries are an excellent way to building trunk strength and stability, they are fun and the options are endless. You could carry a sandbag in front of you, hold a kettlebell or two overhead, at your shoulders, or by your sides as in a farmers carry. One arm variations are great for stability and imbalances. Also, various pressing movements to balance the anterior muscles with the posterior is critical. Isolation movements do little to prevent injury or build muscle and are rarely, if ever, performed in our daily lives. So I wouldn't waste too much time or energy doing any.
If you want to get stronger and keep performing at a high level, or just start feeling better, you must take a balanced approach to strength training as well as flexibility and mobility training. Pay particular attention to the hamstrings, hip flexors and the muscles that rotate the trunk. Maintain good postural alignment in the gym and in your daily life, at all times. Some say the best back exercise is sitting with perfect posture for long periods of time, try it. Train your body as one unit, not a collection of individual parts. Don't bother doing crunches on the floor, train smart with more functional core exercises. Never round your back when lifting weights. Train for balance and don't neglect your "unseen" muscles.
Be smart with your training and if you're interested in exactly how we train our athletes at TSS, want to learn better lifting technique, or are interested in general athletic conditioning, be sure to get involved with our private membership area and receive over 4 months of detailed programming, tutorials and Q&A's, all for only $50.
Also, if you are in or near the UK on May 14th, you need to check out the Strength & Conditioning for Athletic Domination Seminar I am co-hosting at Strength & Performance in Manchester with Zoran and Sean for only 100 British Bucks! It's definitely going to be a BADASS seminar with tons of knowledge being dropped for all those who attend.
Thanks for reading, now get working on that massive, functional back!